Monday, December 3, 2018

Allen Ginsberg in A Piece of Work


My new mystery/detective novel, A Piece of Work, takes place in 1959 New York City. There a many iconic settings in the novel, one being the San Remo Cafe at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Street. The San Remo Cafe opened in 1925 and was a regular hangout writers, artists
and musicians.

My protagonist, Lee Linville, goes to the San Remo Cafe one night with some friends. That night the counterculture poet, Allen Ginsberg, is also present. Here is an excerpt from the chapter entitled, The Beat Generation.

THE SAN REMO Cafe sat on the corner of Macdougal and Bleeker Street. A pillar sign stood out front and a low step from the sidewalk brought Linville and his party inside. The San Remo was more of a bar than a coffee shop. It had white tile with black star-like patterns on the floor. Despite its tall pressed-tin ceiling, the place was filled with smoke, the smell of beer and alcohol and an unending buzz of chatter. It was bigger than the last place, but filled with people. The clientele of the San Remo were classier than the coffee house as well. There were less black berets and striped sweaters here, and more jackets, ties and evening dresses. The place was lit by a number of globes that hung from the ceiling on chains.
    Aside from numerous tables and chairs, there were wooden-bench booths along the wall, but practically all the seats were taken.
    “What say we imbibe something fermented at the bar,” the Prof said, taking the pipe from his mouth. Lee figured he still had enough money for a few drinks.
    Dark wooden paneling lined the walls. A large mirror trimmed with woodwork was set behind the long bar. They maneuvered their way toward it. Lee ordered them all drinks from an old bartender who looked at Linville with veiled contempt. The bartender put four drinks on the bar and glared at Lee. Lee paid for the drinks with loose change. There was no tip. The bartender grunted his disapproval. Everyone picked up their drinks. Lee turned to see a man next to him was observing him closely.
    “Don’t let old Nino bother you,” said a well-dressed man to him. He had watched the exchange between Lee and the bartender. “Nino’s worked here twenty-five years ago when it was owned by the Santini family. Nino misses the days when this place was full of mobsters and their molls. They were big spenders. Now he has to put up with writers, poets and painters, who are cheap and broke.”
    The man introduced himself as George. He was a handsome, forty-five-year-old man with good manners and a classy fashion sense. George wore a pinstripe tan jacket, a butterscotch checkered vest, and dark silk tie. He had a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
    “And what is your name?” George asked, with smiling dark eyes.
    “Lee.”
    George put his cigarette in his mouth and reached into his jacket. He took out a gold cigarette case, the type with a lighter built into it. George opened the case. “Lee, would you care for a cigarette?”
    Lee nodded. He took the cigarette George offered and the older man lit it with the lighter.
    “Have I seen you here before, Lee?” George asked.
    “I’ve never been here before.”
    There was a loud ruckus from a table across the room.
    “Well, you are in for a treat, Lee,” George said, and taking him by the arm he escorted him closer to the loud table.
    An empty chair was set on the floor and with the encouragement of his companions, a man climbed up and stood on a chair. He was in his early thirties and wore heavy horn rimmed glass. He was slim with thick dark hair that was starting to thin on top. He had dark soulful eyes, a heavy dark beard and mustache  and a full lipped mouth. He wore a tweed coat and a dark sweater over an open neck shirt. Someone handed him a book.
    “That is Allen Ginsberg,” George said. “Do you know Allen Ginsberg? He is a fantastic poet. I believe he is going to recite one of his poems.”
    The group surrounding Ginsberg cheered and shouted both encouragement and insults. They were all pretty drunk, but the poet did not slur his words, nor was he overly dramatic, but rather recited his work quickly and somewhat mechanical.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

    The poem took about twenty minutes for Ginsberg to read. Each time there was a mention of drugs or sex the crowd came to life with a communal ‘Whoaaaaaaaaa!’

I’m with you in Rockland
  in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night

    The end was greeted with a rousing cheer and applause. Standing on the chair, Ginsberg bowed at the waist and then stepped off the chair and took his seat.    
    When the loud clamor died down and everyone returned to what they were doing before the poetry reading, Lee looked around for his companions. Lena and The Prof were talking with a group in the far corner, and Colleen had joined up with some young people more her age.
    “What did you think of Ginsberg’s poem?” George asked Lee.
    “What is it called?”
    “Howl.”
    Lee nodded. It certainly was that, he thought, like a madman howling at the moon.
    “That poem will come to identify this generation,” George said. “You certainly must relate to it, no? Does it not speak to your very soul? Does it not touch something deep in here” he said, and placed his hand on Lee’s chest.
    “It certainly howls at me, I guess.”
    “Yes, yes,” George said, enthusiastically. “In the rawness of the language it howls at the beast within you; that beast trying to get out. We are all savage beasts under the skin.” George raised his brows and cocked his head. “Would you like to meet him?”
    “Who? Ginsberg?”
    “You must meet him, you simply must,” George said, and taking Lee by the arm he made his way through the throng of people. 

All of Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Piece of Work & Miles Davis

My new detective novel A Piece of Work takes place in 1959, and it features a scene in a Harlem blues club. Making a cameo role is the incomparable jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. On August 17, 1959, Miles Davis had released the studio album Kind of Blue. Many critics regard that album as the greatest jazz album of all time.

Here in this excerpt from A Piece of Work we find the protagonist, Lee Linville and his friend Sid in a basement blues club where they meets the mysterious and enticing Lena Lehane. 

    “Do you dig jazz?” she asked.
    “Oh yeah, I dig it,” Sid said.
And you,” she said to Linville. “Do you like jazz music?”
  “Oh yeah, I dig it too,” Lee lied.
    “You see those cats on the main kick?” she asked.
    Sid and Lee turned to the band onstage.
  “You see that cat with the horn?” Lena said.
   They looked at the trumpet player.
    “That’s Miles Davis.”
    Linville wanted to ask, who’s Miles Davis? but he did not.
    “That’s Miles Davis?” Sid exclaimed.
    “That’s the man,” Lena said. She took a cigarette out of her purse and held it out. “Either one of you fine gentlemen have a light for a lady?”
    Both of them scrambled through their pockets for a light.
    Sid came out with a matchbook. He broke one off, struck it and lit her cigarette.  My god, thought Lee, she even smoked sexy.
    “Would either of you fine gentlemen care to buy a lady a drink?” she asked.
    Lee reached into his pocket, but he knew there was no money there.

    “We certainly would,” Sid said. “But unfortunately we’re down to our last ruff.”
    Lena looked indignant. “I thought all you white boys
had money. I should have known you were cut-rate just by looking at you.”
    “You like white boys with money?” Linville asked.
    “What else are they good for?” Lena said.
    “You know a white skin beater used to hang out here? Name of Rafferty. Doug Rafferty.”
    “Yeah, I know him.”
    “You do!” Lee wanted to ask her more, but Lena held up a hand as she looked towards the stage. She butted her cigarette in an ashtray without even looking at it.
    Miles Davis stood at the microphone and addressed the audience. Davis was a handsome man in his early thirties, with his hair cut short and serious demeanor. His eyes were solemn and when he spoke his voice was soft and came out like a hoarse whisper.
    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Just a couple of months ago we lost a giant talent. A singer and songwriter that can never be replaced. I am talking about the late, great Billie Holiday.”
    At the mention of Billie Holiday the patrons applauded and Sid gripped Lee’s arm.
    “I didn’t know Billie all that well,” Davis continued. “We didn’t hang out or nothing like that. I know she loved my son, Gregory. I like to remember Billie before… when she was younger. She was a good looking woman. Nobody could sing like Billie. Everybody loved Billie. I would like to call a woman up on the stage. She’s a fine dinner and she’s going to sing some of Billie’s songs. Please pound your mitts for Miss Lena Lehane.”
    Lena stood up from the table to the applause of the audience. She stepped up on stage and in front of the microphone.
    “For my first number I would like to sing Long Gone Blues,” Lena said, and had to pause at the outburst of applause, whistles and cheers. “Billie wrote Long Gone Blues and if you ever heard her sing it, you could just tell she sang every word like she meant it.”

I’ve been your slave
Ever since I’ve been your babe
But before I see your door
I’ll see you in your grave

I’m a good gal
But my love is all wrong
I’m a good gal
But my love has gone

    The song was a sultry number reminiscent of the late 1930s.
    “She’s good,” Sid leaned over and said in Lee’s ear. “But not as good as Billie was.”


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Piece of Work - 1959 Cadillac

My new book, A Piece of Work is a noirish detective story that takes place in New York City in 1959. The protagonist Lee Linville is one-time investigator turned drug addict. Lee is asked by his former boss, lawyer William Fullerton, to find the runaway daughter of one of Fullerton's rich client.

One of features in the book is William Fullerton's 1959 Cadillac. Here is a short excerpt. 

    
    His attention was caught by a car horn. He turned to see Bill Fullerton pulling up in his Cadillac. He had never seen Bill’s new car. It was a teal colored 2-door convertible, with whitewall tires and huge tailfins on the back making it resemble a rocket ship more than an automobile. The car had a grill in back as well as in front, and on the fins were dual bullet tail lights. The Caddy was long and low and sleek. It was a thing of beauty.
    Lee leaned over and looked through the passenger window. Bill sat behind the steering wheel. The passenger window lowered. Fullerton gave Linville a brief glance, looked straight ahead and waved Lee to get in. Lee opened the door and got in. The car had power brakes, power steering, automatic transmission, back-up lamps and two-speed wipers. The interior of the vehicle was the same teal as the exterior. It had power windows, a two-way power seat and an armrest in the middle of the front seat. It was plush. Lee had never sat in a car this luxurious. It was nicer than a lot of apartments in New York.  
    












    “Nice car,” Lee said.
   For the remainder of the drive neither men said barely a word. The Caddy offered a smooth ride.

   















Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Piece of Work


I am proud to announce the release of my latest book: A Piece of Work. Here is the book blurb.                                                      By 1959 Lee Linville is a junkie living on the streets of New York. He has turned away from the life as an investigator for his lawyer friend, William Fullerton, and has embraced the counterculture way of life. Fullerton comes to Lee with a job only he could do. Fullerton wants Lee to find a sixteen-year-old runaway from an affluent family who has also turned to drugs and is lost in the concrete jungle of New York.Lee must fight against his addiction and his personal demons as his search takes him to the subways of Manhattan, the blues clubs of Harlem, the beatnik scene in Greenwich Village, and the rundown tenements of the Lower East Side.Along the way Lee encounters cops, drug dealers, pimps and a colorful assortment of fellow addicts. If this is a simple runaway case, why is someone trying to kill Lee before he can find the missing girl? As well as being a fast-paced detective story, A Piece of Work is a thought-provoking, sometimes moody look at life in 1950s America where the marginalize struggle with life on a daily basis.                                                                                                                                 Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon!


Friday, August 31, 2018

Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Spartacus

I just recieved my bluray version of Spartacus (1960) starring Kirk Douglas. I have watched this movie countless times on VHS, DVD and now bluray. Watching Laurence Olivier portray Marcus Licinius Crassus made me think of Shakepeare's Gaius Marcius Corriolanus. This summer I saw the Stratford Festival's fine production of Coriolanus. Both Crassus and Coriolanus are Roman Generals of the Patrician class who dislike and distrust the Roman people.

Coriolanus refers to the common people as curs and fragments, the foes to nobleness and dissentious rogues. His utter contempt for the people is clear.
Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate; and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. He that depends
Upon your favours swims with fins of lead
And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust Ye?
With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
Would feed on one another? 

Like Coriolanus, Crassus does not believe the plebeians deserve the right to rule nor are they to be trusted. Speaking with Marcus Glabrus (John Dall), Crassus says.
Do you think I made you commander of the garrison to
control some rock patch on Vesuvius? It was to control
the streets of Rome!

One day I shall cleanse this Rome which my fathers bequeathed me.
He means to cleans it of undesirables. 

Crassus refers to the people of Rome as the mob. When talking to Julius Caesar (John Gavin) Crassus asks, Why have you left us for Gracchus and the mob?
To which Caesar replies, ... this much I have learned from Gracchus: Rome is the mob.

This line is similar to the line from Shakespeare that was used as a rallying cry against Coriolanus: The people are the city!

After extinguishing the slave rebellion Crassus demands of a duplicitous senator: Did you truly believe that 500 years of  Rome could so easily be delivered into the clutches of a mob?

But Coriolanus believes it can. He fears giving the people too much power.
... In soothing them we nourish 'gainst our Senate
The cockle of rebellion, insolence, sedition...

... When two authorities are up,
Neither supreme, how soon confusion
May enter 'twixt the gap of both and take
The one by th'other.

When speaking with his slave, Atoninus (Tony Curtis) Crassus explains the position of the common people as the two of them watch Roman soldiers march by.
There, boy, is Rome! The might, the majesty... the terror of Rome.
There's only one way to deal with Rome, Antoninus, you must serve her. You must abase yourself before her. You must grovel at her feet.

When Coriolanus is denied councilship and is banished from Rome by the people, he makes his position clear how he feels about them in a parting shot.
You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
As reek o'th'rotten fens, whose love I prize
As the dead carcusses of unburried men
That do corrupt my air...

One other comparison of Shakespeare and the movie Spartacus is the scene of Spartacus walking through his camp the night before a major battle. It reminds me of a similar scene in Henry V.

Both Spartacus and Coriolanus are good stories about Rome, freedom and politics. Watch Spartacus and go to Stratford and see Coriolanus.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon















Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Shakespeare - Two Roman Plays

My wife Susan and I just returned from our annual visit to the Stratford Festival where we viewed two of my favorite Roman plays by the Bard; Julius Caesar and Coriolanus.

The Stratford Festival's production of Coriolanus stars Andre Sills as the title character, an uncompromising, apolitical Roman general whose skill and determination on on the battlefield win him praise.  He, of course is hated by his own people when he directs that same harsh attitude toward them.

The production itself is untraditional as it uses a good degree of technology. It is visually compelling  and well worth seeing. Some of my favorite scenes have been cut, but the production and intermission runs almost three hours.

Lucy Peacock is excellent as Coriolanus's controlling mother Volumnia, perhaps Shakespeare's strongest female character.


A contemporary of Shakespeare's, Ben Johnson once said of the Bard, "He is for all time", comes to mind when one thinks of Coriolanus given the current political arena, particularly President Donald Trump and Premier Doug Ford, two untraditional leaders who have the ability to stir up controversy.


A few years ago I wrote a blog comparing Coriolanus with General George S. Patton. I am reprinting that blog here.


Watching the Royal Theater Live production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston reminded me of two things; the first was just how good a play this underrated tragedy truly is, and second, how much Caius Martius Coriolanus reminded me of General George S. Patton as portrayed by George C. Scott in the 1970 movie.

Both men are military men who are most comfortable at war. Both are unbending and apolitical

Both men held themselves and others to a higher standard, and both spoke their minds. When Patton believed one of his men a coward, not only did he tell the soldier so, but he slapped him for it. Both Coriolanus and Patton respected their adversaries, and both were accused of being overly proud.

I do not believe Coriolanus was overly proud. On a number of occasions he did not want to hear his accomplishments extolled.

"Pray now, no more...
I have done as you have done –
that’s what I can... for my country."

When his war wounds are mentioned:

"Scratches with briers,
Scars to move laughter only."

One of my favorite parts of Patton is the opening scene when Gen. Patton delivers a speech to inspire his men. This speech is based on the one Patton gave prior to D-Day. Patton uses coarse language, the kind of talk that the average dough boy could understand and appreciate.

When I heard Tom Hiddleston give Coriolanus’ brief battle speech in act I, scene VI, it reminded me of the Crispen Day speech Hiddleston did in Henry V. But the Coriolanus speech (like Patton’s) is not as grand as the Crispen Day speech, which centered around ‘band of brothers’. Coriolanus’ speech, on the other hand, emphasizes individualism, and every man finding courage in himself. He delivers the speech before his men covered in the blood of their enemies.

"If any such be here...
that love this painting
Wherein you see me smeared; if any fear
Lesser his person than an ill report;
If any think brave death outweighs bad life
And that his country’s dearer than himself:
Let him alone... follow Martius"

Both stories of these two men have a tragic ending. Neither die in a great battle as they would have preferred, but die rather unexpectedly. Both Patton and Coriolanus possessed shortcomings their world was not willing to accept. Both had too much nobility that their world could not tolerate. Patton and Coriolanus were great men, and their greatness was their undoing.


Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sherlock Holmes & History



I was in grade 7 when my teacher first introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes. It was not many years later that I fell in love with history (particularly Canadian history). So when I decided to write my first book, it would be a union of these two loves.


 
This is quite evident to anyone who has read The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Most of the chapters of this book have a good smattering of Canadian history, geography and culture. One can learn a bit about this vast country from the Citadel in Halifax, to the politics in Ottawa, to the settling of the west, to the Fenian raids.

My second Sherlock Holmes mystery is entitled Cold-Hearted Murder, and I decided to keep Holmes in England, but a good part of the backstory takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon Territory.  

I did not plan on writing another Sherlock Holmes adventure, but when David Marcum asked me to contribute a story to an anthology that would benefit a worthy cause I acquiesced.


I decided to write a story based on the murders of the Canadian poisoner, Thomas Neill Cream who killed women in Canada, the United States and was finally arrested and brought to trial in England. I entitled the story The Lambeth Poisoner Case and can be found in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Volume IX.


Image result for poisoner tom cream
Thomas Neill Cream